Driving home from Florida last month, we took a detour through Great Smoky Mountains NP to avoid a 150-mile detour caused by a rock slide blocking the highway. We might have been faster than the detour if we hadn’t stopped a couple of times to watch bears foraging close to the road. At a scenic outlook I took this photo of an American Robin. I was trying to take a picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in this same tree, but it flew off before I could catch it. I didn’t notice the robin right away but he was so kind to patiently pose for me. Our robins are mostly gone for the winter, and I miss them.
We checked into our hotel late, after 10+ hours on the road. A stand with tourist brochures beckoned me. I showed Arthur a bird park flyer with a photo of an alligator. When the hotel clerk heard us wondering about the northern boundary range of alligators, she said she saw them all the time. They hung out at one of her favorite spots, a place where she and her girlfriend often walked – a city park not far from the hotel.
The Great Swamp Sanctuary is a 842-acre preserve in Walterboro, South Carolina. We headed there the next morning, before another long day of driving home from Florida.
From the website: South Carolina’s newest nature-based attraction, the Great Swamp Sanctuary in the City of Walterboro offers visitors the ultimate Lowcountry experience, combining history, culture, recreation and education in a singularly southern lowlands setting. Just three minutes from I-95, this environmental jewel is ideally positioned to serve as the gateway to other nature-based centers in the state and as a catalyst for the lucrative ecotourism market.
The park was quiet on the morning we arrived. Light was bad but the walk was not. First, we didn’t see many birds. But there was more to see.
One of the paths ended alongside the swamp. There the sanctuary really came to life. Woodpeckers, warblers, wrens, herons. We spent an hour there, standing, looking, marveling. We heard a familiar-sounding call but never saw the bird scolding chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee – our lifer Carolina Chickadee.
It was getting late, and we were at the far end of the small park. We headed back to the car, walking as hurried travelers, not as birders. The huge spider web we had carefully ducked under on the way out was forgotten until we had passed it again – without incident. A large bird flew across the path ahead of us and we were back to birder mode. Arthur found it after a beat and there it was, our lifer Barred Owl.
We shouldn’t have been surprised, since there’s a photo of a Barred Owl on the sign at the entrance (scroll up), but we were. Surprised and thrilled. We hit the road again after watching the owl for a bit. Never got to see a South Carolina alligator, but that was fine with us.
Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during November. You can see previous editions of this monthly post here.
As usual, there were a few cringe-worthy typos or misspellings that made me chuckle: sawet owls; squrrile feeders; anartica bird; […] forest in illinoise; cominly found birds of illinois; and ny pidgeons t-shirts.
And the regular collection of funny or unusual product searches were present too: t-shirt there real & there magnificent (not really a birder shirt idea!); owl thong; duck boxers and birder boxers. Actually already gotcha covered on those last ones.
There were a few “magnificent” searches, like high magnificient binocular; magnificent mealworms; and great magnificent frigatebird difference. There were a few “frigate bird” searches last month, too: where can i buy a stuffed frigate bird (oh noes! hope they mean a toy!); advantage for frigate bird; and turkey vulture or frigate bird? (that’s easy).
Questions of the month: are vultures aggressive to humans? (dead ones, I suppose?); should chickadees and wrens houses be multilevel; and can birds interbreed.
My favorite search of the month was the bird that was always right, which really has me curious. I am not sure what the searcher had in mind. They landed on The Bird is Right.
After watching the launch of STS-129, we left KSC and followed traffic back towards Titusville. Instead of going to our hotel, we headed to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to have a quick spin around Black Point Wildlife Drive. It was getting close to sunset so we mostly kept moving, knowing we would be back the next day for a longer, slower visit.
We spent the entire next day at Merritt Island. Again we started on with Black Point Wildlife Drive, this time taking it easy.
After this Killdeer took a bath, it ran to the shore for some serious preening action.
I was cracking up watching these busybody American Avocets foraging in the shallow water.
We visited Canaveral National Seashore too. On the way in, an Osprey ambassador reminded us to park in designated areas only.
From one of the viewing turnouts we could see launchpads 39A and 39B. 39B is closer to us, on the left side of the photo, surrounded by three towers. It is now undergoing modifications to accommodate launching the new Ares 1 rockets. STS-129 launched from 39A (right side of photo) as will all of the remaining five Space Shuttle missions.
We had a nice long walk on the beach, enjoying the lovely late afternoon weather and the birds foraging and posing in the surf.
An informational sign told us: “Often mistakenly referred to in general as “sandpipers,” shorebirds include many species that delightfully challenge birdwatchers.” (emphasis mine, ha ha ha)
It was getting late but we couldn’t resist another go around Black Point Wildlife Drive. On our way there, we were treated to a great sighting of a pair of River Otters crossing the road. We were very excited to see this life mammal but unfortunately did not get a photo. Our second Black Point sunset was predictably beautiful.
We finished the day with 55 (bird) species and three lifers including Florida Scrub-Jay which we were thrilled to finally see.
Here’s another Viera bird. During our first visit we heard a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk calling, over and over. The next day I watched an adult polishing off a meal on a post at the back of the wetlands.
More photos of this bird at my Flickr stream here.
When the meal was done, the bird joined another RSHA in a tree further from the road.
Later we saw this RSHA perched over the wetlands.
More photos of this bird at my Flickr stream here.
Red-shouldered Hawks range where we live but I have never seen one around here before. With so many of the birds at Viera and in Florida in general, you can get such good looks. The birds seem so much more relaxed and approachable. It was great to see these hawks at the wetlands. This was not a lifer but among our best looks at this bird (besides a couple of other times – in FL of course!).
This post has been submitted to Bird Photography Weekly, hosted by Birdfreak. I love BPW because not only can I see great bird photos, but I can read the cool reactions people have to them. There might be a bird I would consider common that is a lifer for the poster. Yet other posts will be of birds that would be a lifer for me, taken in someone’s back yard. Then there are the familiar but far-away European birds that make me feel homesick for Holland. It’s always a great mix. Check out this week’s submissions. While you’re at it, why don’t you submit your own BPW post?
Can you tell I like Viera Wetlands? We visited twice last week and it was great, much better than our previous visit mosquito-wise too. What a relief, we could drive with the windows down and not get eaten alive. We had 48 species over the two visits, including our lifer American Bittern (in flight, no photo unfortunately). Here are some other Viera highlights from 15 and 18 November.
Today Space Shuttle Atlantis landed safely at Kennedy Space Center after an 11-day mission to the ISS. Here are a few photos I took back on Sunday, 15 November and again on Monday, 16 November when we spent most of each day at KSC and viewed the launch.
There’s more to see on the grounds besides the technological wonders.
At the observation gantry, the grackle-racket was impossible to ignore.
Atlantis was also hard to ignore. This was taken about 30 hours before launch.
While waiting to board the bus at the Apollo-Saturn V Center I spotted this Osprey.
Monday morning we arrived at KSC bright and early. Cloud cover looked bad but the signage was promising.
The skies clear up just in time. Our scope was great for viewing the launch. Photos below were taken right before lift-off and shortly after.
No photos of the launch itself; I was watching it. I could never take any photos or video as fine as what NASA makes publicly available, anyway.
It was awesome to watch the launch. So glad we didn’t go bust, honey!
During one of our visits to Viera Wetlands, we saw this Anhinga playing with a piece of pipe. Anhingas hunt by swimming under water and spearing fish with their sharp bills. They then have to manipulate their prey in order to eat it, which usually involves tossing the fish into the air from the perpendicular and catching it as it falls parallel into its throat. These photos I found on Flickr show the toss and catch process. We were both enthralled and amused watching this Anhinga’s antics as it practiced its prey-flipping skills.
I admit I had fun watching the American Coots at Viera Wetlands last week. American Coots look a lot like Common Coots, a familiar bird I saw almost every day back in Leiden. They remained relatively solitary on the city canals so seeing coots in a big amicable group (raft) was new to me.
Besides the coot photos I shared yesterday I also took a couple of videos, which I put together here. The first part of the video shows a group feeding calmly together. After the transition the coots are on high alert. I am not sure what spooked them but I found this looking-in-all-directions behavior very cute. Despite the alert level there is a teeny tiny mini standoff between two of the birds starting at about :15 (look on the left side). That’s more like the coot behavior I am used to seeing!
We returned home late on Friday from an 8-day road trip down to Florida to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis lift off for the ISS. The launch was scheduled for Monday, November 16th and, unlike last time we tried to view a launch, there were no delays and the Shuttle took off right on time.
Of course we couldn’t pass up the chance to do a bit of birding along the way. While staying on the Space Coast we visited Viera Wetlands twice and spent a day at Merritt Island NWR (which remained closed during our last Florida visit, when the Shuttle was delayed, and delayed, and delayed…). We took our time driving home and stopped at Great Swamp Sanctuary in South Carolina and even drove through Great Smoky Mountains NP.
To start off what will probably be a handful of blog entries about our trip, here’s my Bird Photography Weekly submission for this week. American Coots summer up here in Illinois, but we rarely get to see them up close. At Viera, they were tooling around in large rafts all over.
nom nom nom